Pompeo wants to switch Australian ambassador pick to South Korea

Glen Norman
April 25, 2018

Experts say the surprise move sends a "terrible" message to Australia, which has been waiting nearly a year for a new United States ambassador, but the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has played down suggestions it amounts to a slight against Australia.

During his own confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, the former Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo had promised to fill the role of U.S. ambassador to South Korea quickly.

Harris has reportedly already said he's willing to swap roles, and officials are waiting for approval from the White House, according to The Washington Post.

"While we would have welcomed Adm. Harris here as ambassador to Australia, we understand that there are significant challenges for the United States on the Korean peninsula", Bishop told reporters in Sydney. Pompeo met Kim Jong-un over Easter to prepare for the historic summit in coming weeks.

It was confirmed earlier today Admiral Harris would instead be posted to South Korea as an envoy.

However, Andrew Shearer, senior adviser on Asia-Pacific Security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it was hard to avoid the impression Australia was being treated as a "second-class ally". "Australia really though is, if you like, a collateral casualty to the shambolic personnel practices of the Trump administration".

"I think that's regrettable", he said.

Two senior US officials confirmed the plan to nominate Harris.

"The relationship between Australia and the United States is so deep and so intense, it operates at so many levels", Mr Turnbull said.

The reshuffle could also have an impact outside of the US and South Korea.

"He is a guy of enormous experience and ability and given the situation on the Korean Peninsula, given the tensions there, I can well understand why the president has decided that the admiral's expertise and experience is going to be able to be put to better use in Korea than in Australia". His potential confirmation as South Korea ambassador will still take time, however, in part because of the need for more vetting.

Victor Cha, a highly respected academic and an official in the George W. Bush administration, was under consideration for the role past year, but the White House scrapped his candidacy in December, reportedly over his privately expressed disagreements with Trump's policy on North Korea.

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